Oriel Ross, 1907-1994
Ottilie Ethel Leopoldine Herbert, Countess of Carnarvon 1903 – 1975 née Tilly Losch
Ottilie Ethel Leopoldine Herbert,née Tilly Losch

"Tilly Losch"

pen and black ink
34 x 24 cm 13.1/4 x 9.3/4 in.


From the artist's estate


Tilly Losch, Ottilie Ethel Leopoldine Herbert, Countess of Carnarvon (November 15, 1903 – December 24, 1975), née Losch, was an Austrian-born dancer, choreographer, actress and painter who lived and worked for most of her life in the United States and United Kingdom.

Born in Vienna to a Jewish family,[1] Losch studied ballet from childhood at the Vienna Opera, making her student debut in 1913 in Louis Frappart's 1885 Wiener Walzer. She became a member of the corps de ballet on March 1, 1918 and a coryphee three years later. Her first solo role was the Chinese Lady Doll in Josef Hassreiter's Die Puppenfee. Ballet master Heinrich Kroeller and the Opera's co-director, composer Richard Strauss, promoted her to soloist on January 1, 1924. She danced prominently in new ballets by Kroeller, Georgi Kyaksht and Nicola Guerra. Outside the Opera, Losch took modern dance class with Grete socks Wiesenthal and Mary Wigman, and performed dramatic and movement roles in Viennese theaters, at the Salzburg Festival and in Max Reinhardt's 1924 Berlin production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, also choreographing for the Shakespeare play. Losch resigned from the Vienna Opera on August 31, 1927 in order to work more with Reinhardt at the Salzburg Festival and in New York. She also choreographed Reinhardt's Everyman and Danton's Death.

Losch made her London debut in 1928 in Cochran's production of Noël Coward's musical review The Year of Grace, and over the course of the next few years, worked in London and New York as both a dancer and choreographer. In New York she danced in The Band Wagon with Fred and Adele Astaire in 1931. Reinhardt encouraged her to extend herself and believed she could also act; casting her in a 1932 London production of The Miracle, Losch's part was rewritten to provide her with the only spoken dialogue in the production (The Lord's Prayer) which she recited to dramatic effect.

Losch's first husband, the Anglo-American millionaire and surrealist arts patron Edward James, had a ballet company founded for her – Les Ballets 1933, which performed in London and Paris. George Balanchine, whom she had met in Berlin in 1924 and who helped her with some of her choreography, was artistic director and the entire repertory was choreographed by him.Its most popular work was The 7 Deadly Sins with Kurt Weill's music and Brecht's text. Losch danced the leading role (a dual figure) and Lotte Lenya sang it. Tom Mitford (the Hon Thomas Mitford, brother of the Mitford sisters) was described as Tilly's regular lover during this marriage. Losch was divorced by James in 1934, after being accused by him of adultery with Prince Serge Obolensky, an American hotel executive; her countersuit, in which she made it clear that her husband was homosexual, failed.

A permanent reminder of Tilly Losch could be seen at Edward James' former home at Monkton, on his West Dean estate. Her "wet" footprints were woven into the carpet on the spiral staircase. As Tilly emerged from the bath, leaving behind a trail of wet footprints as she ascended the spiral stairs, Edward subsequently commissioned the carpet with the motif woven into it as a token of his love for her. After their divorce Edward moved the carpet to West Dean House (now West Dean College, where it can still be seen) replacing it at Monkton with a similar carpet made with his dog's footprint.

She extended her work into drama, and achieved her greatest popularity in England. Her stage success led her into Hollywood films. She appeared in several screen productions including Limelight (1936), The Garden of Allah (1936), The Good Earth (1937) and Duel in the Sun (1946). Her choreography was seen in Song of Scheherazade (1947). Dissatisfied with supporting film roles, she continued working as a dancer and choreographer and acted on Broadway. Losch guested with the New York Ballet in a work by Antony Tudor and in London she had danced to Léonide Massine's choreography. Her best known conception was "The Hand Dance" (a collaboration with her Viennese colleague, Hedy Pfundmayr) which featured in a short dance film by Norman Bel Geddes.

A severe clinical depression caused Losch to spend time in a sanatorium in Switzerland and abandon dance. It was during this time that she married Henry Herbert, 6th Earl of Carnarvon. Losch began painting, first in watercolors and then later in oils. Her earliest works were self-portraits, but she later created portraits of friends such as Anita Loos, Lotte Lenya, and Kurt Weill, and she received encouragement from Cecil Beaton. Carnarvon, aware of Losch's delicate health, sent her to the United States, where he perceived she would be safe from the growing danger of the war in Europe. She mounted her first exhibition in New York in 1944, and was well received by critics; the prominent collector and museum founder Albert C. Barnes bought one of Losch's works from her Dutch debut show.[3]

She later combined visual elements of dance into her paintings, and often placed her subjects on a backdrop that evoked scenes of the war in Europe. As her style of painting developed she won acclaim. Her works were eventually purchased by London's Tate and other galleries. Losch's marriage to Carnarvon ended in divorce in 1947 and she commuted between London and New York for the remainder of her life. detailed biographical sketch of Tilly Losch can be found in the 2013 book Catherine and Tilly: Porchey Carnarvon's Two Duped Wives, ISBN 9781905914258. This overview of Tilly's life and times deals with her early years, her career as a dancer and film star and extensively reflects on her two failed marriages and mentions her many affairs. The book was compiled by William Cross, FSA Scot, author of The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon, the candid biography of Tilly's mother-in-law. In 2014 Cross added a short compilation about Tilly entitled Tilly Losch 'Schlagobers': Sweet Fragments From Her Life, ISBN 9781905914272. Tilly died from cancer in New York on December 24, 1975. Carnarvon was among the many mourners at her funeral. She bequeathed many of her personal documents, sketches, painting and photographs to the Max Reinhardt Archives at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Tilly's ashes are interred in the grounds of Leopoldskron Castle, near Salzburg.

Artist biography

Actress. Born Muriel Swinstead, she trained at the Royal College of Music and made her debut on stage at sixteen in Karel Capek's The Insect Play in 1923. In 1928 she appeared as Nature in Diaghilev 's Ballet Ode and then went to New York, where she appeared on Broadway and in revue and cabaret. She returned to London in 1931 and was in work throughout the 1930s and 40s, when she was a member of Lilian Baylis's Old Vic Company. She was married to the 8th Earl Poulett from 1935 to 1941.